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Disability transformation’s slow pace

The 17th Commission for Employment Equity report released recently highlighted the lack of progress in the transformation of South Africa’s workplace, but there has been little mention of disability in the commentary that has followed.

This is according to Tendai Khumalo, managing director of Qunu Workforce, a Workforce Holdings company which provides disability solutions for corporates and the government.

He explained that while there’s well-defined legislation with specific percentages and incentives around the employment, training and support of people with disabilities in both the private and government sectors, the appetite to comply was extremely weak.

“The Employment Equity Act states that at least 3% of the workforce should be employees with disabilities. The national disability prevalence rate in South Africa is around 7.5%, but it could be higher because of under- reporting.

Their employment remains one of the major employment equity challenges South Africa needs to tackle.

“While corporates are heavily penalised for not meeting B-BBEE scorecard targets, there are limited consequences, if any, for the public service for not achieving these. State-owned entities generally don’t get anywhere near the 3% employment target.

“Government employers should be leading by example and they are not,” said Khumalo, who became disabled in 2003.

Khumalo said there were many misconceptions and multiple definitions of disability in the workplace.

The few with disabilities who are fortunate to have employment opportunities and access to training still have to jump through hoops and navigate mindsets and lack of knowledge around this topic, he said, adding that it was something that could lead to “discrimination and undermining of their competence”.

“There is a tendency to view toilets, ramps, lifts, parking bays or modified work environments as successful indicators of embracing disability.

“The true measure of diversity is not only linked to the physical environment but to the extent to which people with disabilities are fully integrated into the mainstream work environment and society at large.

“A paradigm shift is needed regarding the job roles typically earmarked for persons with disabilities. There is a tendency to link contact centre jobs, administration roles and menial back-office jobs to people with disabilities, with no career path and defined growth plans.

“There are also corporates that would rather pay the penalty than take on what they consider to be the ‘disability problem’.

“We believe the cost of fines could be better used to begin the journey of learning and gaining insight into disability and how it can benefit the organisation.

“An awareness programme and meaningful dialogue with and about disability in the workplace helps to break down misconceptions.”

Khumalo added that among the most debilitating challenges disabled people face were the lack of adequate public transport to and from work, and training opportunities.

“The current bus rapid transit system in Johannesburg, which was designed to cater for the disabled, was very noble – however, if the first mile (home to station) and the last mile (station to workplace) is not taken into consideration, how is a person with a physical disability supposed to get to the bus rank?”

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